Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Pasta Imperfect

Ever since I learned how to make my own pasta, I've been completely smitten. It's so much easier and more satisfying than I had expected, and I've gotten to the point where I rarely buy pasta as a quick fix just because I know I can whip up a batch of noodles very quickly.

Lately, though, I've been curious about the possibilities that pasta holds –- how a somewhat blank slate can be modified and given a little more pizzazz with a little tweaking of flavors. So I've donned my Mad Kitchen Scientist cap a few times recently, and while you can read more about the whole adventure over at the Ethicurean, I'll share more details of my forays into dessert pasta with you here.

A few years ago, in pondering a new creation for the Chocolate Potluck, an email dialogue with the incomparably sassy Spicyflower raised the possibility of chocolate pasta. I was intrigued, but I did nothing about it at the time except to bookmark a recipe or two.

But in considering how to make flavored pasta for desserts, I pulled out those recipes and decided to mix together a cocoa- and cinnamon-laced pasta. After cutting the dough into broad strips, I spread them with a cream cheese mixture and rolled them up, baking them like mini manicotti. With a dark chocolate sauce and a whipped chocolate cream on top, these little delicacies turned out delightfully rich and decadent.

I thought about other flavors for dessert pasta, too, and pondered the idea of working raspberries into the dough. Around that time, I stumbled across a paragraph in my copy of Stocking Up that indicated that dried fruits and vegetables (dried thoroughly, not just until leathery) could be ground and used to replace up to 1/4 c flour in recipes. Since I have a couple of small jars of too-dry raspberries from my early drying experiments, I decided I'd give this method a try.

I still haven't replaced my mini food processor, but my coffee grinder, once wiped clean, proved more than equal to the task of grinding the berries into a fluffy powder. The ground berries, then, worked into the pasta dough easily, adding a tart, intensely raspberry flavor to the dough.

But how to use the dough? I had considered making ravioli, but I thought I'd like to try shaping the dough and baking it first before adding soft fillings simply for the contrast in textures. So I cut out squares and draped them over greased cups to make "baskets"; I cut out circles and brushed them with lemon basil syrup, baking them into crisp ravioli rounds; and I took strips of pasta and wound them around wooden spoon handles and a lemon reamer to make little cones.

They're not perfect, not the most attractive little structures, but they did fulfill their mission very nicely. And while I think I prefer using pasta while soft instead of baking it, I did find the difference between the crisp pasta and both a cream cheese filling and the whipped chocolate cream to have a certain appeal.

But I won't make you take just my word for it. I invited the faithful Persephone and the Contradance Queen over for dessert this evening and plied them with my luscious experiments:

Both ladies expressed their full approval and appreciation of the dessert pasta sampler, thus earning them the honor of taking the leftovers when they left. (I can only eat so much of my own experiments before I have to foist them on others!)

I'm sure I'll launch into some new cooking experiments soon and get back to making just plain ol' pasta this weekend.

But sometimes it’s nice to explore the pastabilities...



At 2/11/2008 11:28 PM, Blogger Bri said...

I realize by how prolific you've been, just how long it's been since I was on your site. Sorry about that. I'm catching up.

I love your dessert pasta ideas. The finely ground raspberry idea was an inspired one. You could do that with blueberries, mango, persimmon...yum! Cream cheese really is a wonderful fruit accompaniment. I'll have to go over and read your Ethicurean article.

At 2/12/2008 7:15 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Eh, you're not that far behind, Bri... I am! I never got around to posting last week so I had to play catch-up over the weekend.

The cream cheese was a little heavy in the cones, but it worked better in the baked chocolate pasta. Funny thing is, in the chocolate pasta it ended up with a sort of banana taste... and I didn't have bananas anywhere near it! Still, an idea for next time... ;-)


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